How Businesses Are Pivoting During COVID-19
The Current State of Business
According to the US Chamber of Commerce, the pandemic is affecting every sector and every region of the country:
- One quarter of small businesses have already shut down.
- 43% believe they have less than 6 months until a permanent shutdown is unavoidable.
- 29% need more guidance on how to keep their customers and employees safe and how to respond to the crisis itself.
- More than one quarter of job losses came from bars and restaurants.
- Payroll jobs are down by 20.5 million. (source)
While we don't need the numbers to tell us what we already know (individuals and businesses are suffering), there is still hope.
In this piece, we feature businesses who are remaining resilient and finding creative ways to stay afloat, inspiring change within their community, and we hope that this can spark ideas for others who are trying to find ways to pivot in such a challenging time.
Unique Ways Businesses Have Adjusted to the Coronavirus
We spoke with businesses in several industries to see how the pandemic has affected their business and how they've changed gears to stay afloat during this tough time:
Inbeat: Strict budget reallocation
David Morneau, Co-founder and CEO of Inbeat.co, said "the COVID came like a tornado. In a matter of 4 days, our business had lost its vocation. We lost 50% of our cash flow (multiple of our big accounts were in the tourism and hospitality industry), we lost most of our leads, and we all had to manage the breakdown from home. Here are the action steps we took:
- Reposition our influencer marketing offering to service mobile apps, which are witnessing massive growth
- Tie all of our efforts to two core activities: sales and billable hours
- Cut our team's salary by 25%, until we got back some oxygen
- Leverage our in-house expertise to work on projects outside our scope (mostly web design and web scraping)
- Upsell our remaining accounts on other relevant services
From a team management perspective, we arranged daily standups to know what everyone was working on (as I mentioned, we kept a tight grip on how we allocated resources). We are now back to normal in terms of cash flow, and we kept everyone on the payroll. This pandemic is something that you can't believe until it actually happens.
Survey Anyplace: Service medical companies
Stefan Debois, Founder and CEO of Survey Anyplace, said "our business saw a high number of cancellations of clients in industries that were heavily hit, like the event sector. On the other hand, we also observed an uptake in the use of our tool for remote medical advice and health education. We set up a specific campaign for pharmaceutical companies and government organizations who need to advise people about health matters. In our opinion, the practice of delivering health advice remotely is something that will not disappear after the crisis. This is an excellent illustration of the fact that a crisis always includes challenges as well as opportunities."
Leesa Sleep: Create bed kits for hospitals
Jen-Ai Notman of Leesa Sleep, said "we have pivoted our business to address the growing need for hospital beds. In partnership with Sentara Healthcare, we created supplemental bed kits that include a twin mattress, waterproof cover, bed frame, pillow, and foam incline wedge. To date, we have supplied supplemental bed kits to Sentara’s 12 hospitals and worked with Samaritan’s Purse. We have the supply and capability to deliver bed kits in under a week. We are exploring how we can continue to use our lean supply chain to help in other disaster recoveries – e.g. hurricane relief."
RoHo Goods: Sell masks to help fight food insecurity
Caleigh Hernandez, founder of RoHo Goods, saw an opportunity to empower local artisans while she was working in East Africa by creating consistent, fair paying work for their artisans, most of whom are women. Currently, ¾ of their artisans and families -- more than 1,500 people -- are food insecure in Kenya due to COVID-19. People are working less and are unable to sell their wares locally.
Caleigh and her mom began turning African kitenge fabric and batik fabric into masks to sell, made of beautiful fabrics that are double-sided, washable and durable. Each mask provides about twenty-five meals for food insecure artisans. To date, they've sold over 450 masks. RoHo's partners include Doctor’s Without Walls (Santa Barbara), The MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper University Hospital (New Jersey), Second Harvest Food Bank (New Orleans), and had masks sent to Bellevue Hospital (NYC).
Hippy Feet: Find new ways to provide jobs for the homeless youth
Sam Harper, Co-founder of Hippy Feet, said "our company's mission is to provide jobs to homeless youth. Prior to the pandemic, we did this by bringing jobs directly to homeless shelters through a process we call "Pop-Up Employment" - we gave it this name because we can pop-up at any shelter to provide jobs through packaging, embroidery, and screen printing to the people using the shelter's services.
The homeless community is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and we are no longer able to bring groups of homeless youth together in shelters to provide jobs. To adjust our mission in the age of social distancing, we now deliver jobs directly to the doorsteps of young people who have been pulled off the street and into transitional housing. We deliver packages with all the supplies they need to package socks and complete other small piece work, and we pay them to do this work in the safety of their transitional housing."
Ringblaze: Focus on eCommerce and PPC
Dennis Vu, Co-founder and CEO of Ringblaze, said "we have customers from a variety of industries, but we never focused on eCommerce in particular, until COVID-19. In the past few weeks, we have been focusing all of our marketing and sales efforts on reaching more eCommerce clients. We started emailing all free trial users we had to get them to subscribe. At the same time, we used PPC and Facebook ads to get in front of those audiences since the return on ad spend has been great. In fact, cost per click for PPC ads has been lower than ever before."
Time Doctor: Switch to an online conference
Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam, Content Marketer of Time Doctor, said "Time Doctor runs an annual conference on remote work. At this conference, business leaders congregate to share remote working tips and strategies. They also network and forge alliances. This year, the Running Remote conference was slated for the last week of April 2020. But as the pandemic worsened and spread, and as airports closed to travelers, Time Doctor changed its plans. It launched an online conference, called the Remote Aid conference. It was well attended mostly by business owners who were learning the process of managing remote teams and boosting the productivity of their virtual teams.
K9 of Mine: Create online courses
MortgagePal: Create a secondary brand
Alan Harder, Co-owner of Mortgage Pal, said "a lot of our business comes from people buying homes. But since COVID hit, the purchase market has slowed down dramatically. So what was supposed to be our busy Spring market (where we make about 70% of our revenue) has all but been put on hold.
To pivot, we've been working on building a secondary brand where we can support a different demographic of clientele. Instead of focusing on high credit purchase transactions, we launched Boost Mortgage to offer debt consolidation solutions for more complex clients, like those with bad credit, non-traditional income, unconventional properties, etc.
Financeeo: Prioritize employees' mental health
Jack Morgan, Chief Editor of Financeeo, said "our team is working from home right now and it's difficult being isolated for long periods, so I signed my entire company up for a service that allows my staff to make a Skype call whenever they need. At the other end is a trained person that can help my staff if they're lonely, stressed, feeling anxious; whatever it might be, there is someone there for them 24/7. I view this as a safety blanket for my staff and might literally be a lifesaver."
eSight: Develop new program for the visually impaired
eSight recognized that visually impaired workers don't have the same accessibility at home as they do at work. They were not able to take office equipment home, like screen readers. So, they created a corporate program, eSight Workplace, to help companies purchase devices for their employees, which can be used for remote work and in their personal lives.
They also created #eSightTogether, a campaign to help connect visually impaired people during this tough time. Studies have shown that people with low vision are more likely to feel isolated, anxious and depressed, and COVID-19 has made that situation worse. As part of #eSightTogether, the company has scheduled daily coffee chats to help bring the community together.
GoCo: Release a Coronavirus paid leave tool
Allie Collins, Marketing Director of GoCo, said "HR Professionals are scrambling to respond to new regulations regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA opened a plethora of questions for HR managers and business owners regarding how to track the new leave policies. GoCo mobilized quickly to release an emergency paid leave tracking feature. The feature specifically addresses: Emergency Family Sick Leave and the Emergency Family Medical Leave Act.
The feature was created with impacted businesses in mind and helps ensure that businesses stay in compliance with the new regulations. HR Managers and business owners can track leave balances, review approval workflows, and help their businesses get reimbursed among other things."
Greendeck: Release a retail tracker
Aditya Josh of Greendeck just recently launched a live tracker that shows the current status of retailers in the US, UK, Europe, and Asia. It covers if they've shut stores, reopened stores, and if they're focusing on certain products. For those involved in the retail space, this tool is an easy way to stay up-to-date on the latest updates.
Almy Education: Expand remote education
Kathleen Almy, Founder and CEO of Almy Education, said "before COVID we primarily worked with high schools and colleges to improve their math programs so that students had better experiences and were more likely to graduate. We had a variety of consultants who could be contracted to work with schools, and we were ramping up our online and other offerings as we're growing.
Then COVID hit. At first, we were in a tailspin because we lost tens of thousands in contracts within a week because our in-person professional development events were cancelled. We thought moving them to Zoom would be enough, but it wasn't. So our whole 2020 plan was scrapped. We asked our email list, what do you need? From that, we started building free and paid offerings to train 6-12th grade math teachers on teaching remotely and college/university STEM faculty on teaching remotely. We also broadened our offerings to students in the 6-12th grade. Our target audience is administrators so also offering services to parents and students was a real shift. We went from panic to pivot, and now I can't keep up with the requests for services. It's a good problem to have. It's also really rewarding to be providing needed resources and growing the business at the same time."
Elevate the Future: Student-led initiative to help local businesses
Arjun Gupta, a 17-year old junior at Lynbrook High School is the Co-founder and Executive President of Elevate the Future. He said, "ETF is a completely student-run global nonprofit organization based in San Jose, California. Prior to COVID-19, ETF was focused on entirely in-person and deeply personal programs to inspire passions in students through early introductions to business and computer science. COVID-19 led to the cancellation of 6 ETF events in 3 states and 2 countries.
Since the emergence of COVID-19, we've expanded our team by almost 125 students and recruited and mobilized 10 new chapters in 6 new states and 4 new countries by tapping into the capacity to do good in high school students across the world. In partnership with the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce, ETF has launched Project Falcon, a project that helps small businesses without websites stay afloat by enabling middle school students (who ETF is teaching coding) to create websites for them.
Additionally, we just received 63 entrants, from almost a dozen countries, into our Cloud 9 program which incubates and provides resources to student-led businesses to propel businesses in their early stages. Each of these 63 student-led businesses will receive support and mentorship to accelerate their potential."
Marquam Auction Agency: Develop virtual fundraising
Sara McMahon of Marquam Auction Agency said, "we are a full service fundraising agency. Due to our clients inability to gather, we were forced to pivot and develop a new program Go VIRTUAL! -- a complete solution to host a live auction event 100% virtually. This enables our clients to continue raising the critical funds they need to stay open and to continue offering services to those most in need.
We were one of the nation's first agencies to successfully execute a live virtual gala. From adjusting our scripts, developing engaging visuals and run of show for virtual broadcast, we developed a new arm of our industry so that we can continue to support our clients and bring in business during this strange time."
More Gems: Utilize YouTube and Facebook Live
Jeff Moriarty, Marketing Manager of More Gems said, "we own a small jewelry business with about $1.5 million in revenue each year. In March, we had to close our retail stores and do not plan on re-opening until the end of May. Because of this, we had to be a little more innovative with our marketing and how to generate revenue.
At the beginning of April we began doing a live Gem Show on Youtube and Facebook each week. This was just an experiment, but after generating over $10,000 in sales from our first show, we decided to continue with the show each week. We are constantly selling over $10,000 from these shows, which has helped immensely to get through this crisis. It has also helped us engage more with our customers, which has been great, especially when everyone is staying home. They learn about our business and industry, and we get the chance to answer questions and talk with them live. Overall an amazing experience that any business can do with no extra cost at all.
Riviera Produce: Keep the food supply moving
Riviera Produce has been a restaurant wholesale produce company in business for the last 27 years, servicing top 4/5 star restaurants in NYC. We have a warehouse with over 600 fruits and vegetables. In the first week of March, we lost 90% of our business. In the third week of March, we laid off 46 people and have only been able to hire back 10 so far. COVID-19 has rocked our world.
With a quick idea to fill the dire need to get produce and grocery items to people's homes, we created a business overnight. On a Saturday, we came up with the idea of doing box deliveries to homes, and by Tuesday we had a website up and running and made our first sale. Grateful Produce Box was born and we now do hundreds of box deliveries per day to homes. No contact. It’s been hard, but it’s also been fun (like this month's Cinco de Mayo box). We have created a group on Facebook to help with recipes and give families a sense of calm and happiness throughout these tough times. We are also now partnering with local businesses to help each other out and keep the food supply moving.
GYMGUYZ: Expand virtual fitness
Josh York, Founder and CEO of GYMGUYZ, started this business at his parents' kitchen table at the height of recession in 2008, with a goal to create the fitness industry's solution for an 'Amazon-style' concept centered around convenience by bringing the gym to the consumer. Today, they've partnered with Bark as a preferred provider of personal virtual training in the US and Canada.
To adjust to the pandemic, GYMGUYZ will be offering virtual personal training sessions that are completely customized, delivering specialized equipment to clients so they can continue workouts at home, and a workout migration program that awards new clients with memberships at brick and mortar concepts a credit in the amount they are unable to use due to closures and COVID-related restrictions for virtual services.
SpaceshipOne: Create educational resources
Anna Michel, Founder of SpaceshipOne, and her team created their organization with a mission to promote scientific and technological exploration, policy improvement, and public education to help inspire others to work together as a harmonious crew, on a mission to repair and fuel the amazing planet that is our one and only home. Since the pandemic, they have pivoted to creating an entire section on their website dedicated to COVID-19, including gamified quizzes to combat misinformation about COVID-19 while improving users' numeracy skills.
They are also promoting the usage of face masks while funding COVID treatment research through a #WearToCare campaign in partnership with Stanford School of Medicine and Bay Area companies.
The Future of Business
We hope that these stories of the unique and wonderful ways that businesses have been able to adjust serve as inspiration for other business owners out there. During this tough time, there remains hope and resilience in every industry, no matter how large or small your team may be. For more business resources related to COVID-19, you can check out the following: